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J. R. Tracy
We had nine players a couple weeks ago, including Mark Bretherton, up from Down Under, taking the long way to London.
Bill and Dutch paired up for W1815, with Bill taking the Allies to Dutch's French. Dutch opened with Kellerman against the Allied left. Bill declined to leave the safety and comfort of his squares, so Reille went in and punished Hill accordingly. Hill crumbled, and the Allied army soon followed. Bill was neither pleased nor impressed, but I think you need to leave square immediately (unless Ney seizes the reins) and take your chances with the cav.
Kellerman tags in Reille for the atomic leg drop
They then turned to Evan Jones' Blue vs. Gray. As the Federals, Dutch quickly teamed up Grant and Sherman, surrounding them with a formidable array of subordinate talent. This juggernaut punished Bill for his constitutional transgressions and dragged him kicking and screaming back into the Union. They had some great battles along the way as Bill tried to make gains of his own in the opposite theater, extending the war as best he could. Good game and enjoyed by both.
Terrible Swift Sword
Scott introduced Maynard to No Retreat! The Russian Front, with Scott taking the Germans. Maynard cut his teeth on Avalon Hill classics so this was right in his wheelhouse and he warmed to it quickly. They used the GMT first edition rules with the added tweak of no German stacking until the Soviets could do so also (we tested this a while back and it works well).
Barbarossa yet again
Scott loaded up in the center and drove hard for the Kremlin, attending to his flanks as best he could. However, once he reached the Moscow Metro, resistance stiffened. The Germans attacked the capital into the winter and through 1942, but Maynard was able to hang on while solidifying the front elsewhere. As the spring of 1943 arrives, the Wehrmacht has clearly shot its bolt, so now it's a question of how much ground the Red Army can recover by 1945. Scott still holds a lot of Mother Russia, but the extended battle for Moscow was costly and those losses may haunt him in the months to come.
A last desperate push
Mark, Dr. Rob, Smitch, Hawkeye, and I all tried Lew Pulsipher's new Sea Kings, from Worthington Games. Each player is a Viking clan leader, accruing wealth and fame through exploration, trade, settlement, and good old fashioned head-splitting. You may perform two actions in your turn, which include challenging another player in the same region to a fight, moving a space, drawing a card, or playing a card. The cards themselves offer chances to discover, settle, raid, or trade in particular regions. There are additional cards that modify actions or grant bonuses, and a few mandatory random events.
With a few exceptions, most of the discover/trade/raid/settle cards name a specific location, so your hand guides your movement. You still have to make some decisions with respect to distance/payoff tradeoffs, and the more violent actions require a die roll for success. Your reward comes in fame or wealth depending on what you do (you get to choose which after a successful raid). You also score 'land' points as you settle territory. At game end, whoever leads in a given category (land/wealth/fame) earns two bonus points in that index, while the last player in each is docked one. The sum of your three tallies is your final score. The game ends after completing a lap around the table after the final card is drawn.
In our game, a couple players headed down to Rus to settle while others struck out across the North Sea to the British Isles and on to Iceland. We went where the cards told us to go, occasionally stealing settlements off one another. Smitch seemed to have the worst luck of the dice, while Dr. Rob moved out in front. I got some nice late-game cards, allowing me to head down to Miklagard for some raiding, picking up some settlements along the way. I had a nice balanced score, but so did Mark - he managed to snag my Rus settlement on the last turn, which proved to be enough to edge me for the win.
The game is physically beautiful - in particular I love the card art in the play deck. The map is nice and the wood components are top notch. In play terms, however, we felt we were just along for the ride. There is a high degree of interaction but the decision making didn't seem particularly challenging. I would like to play it again to judge the value of deck-diving for cards a little more that we did, in hopes of gaining some control of my fate. In sum, clean and light, but I was hoping for a bit more.
With Dr. Rob's departure, our remaining four turned to Nexus Ops. I decided to pop the shrinkwrap on my FFG edition - egads! This is one ugly game. The original Avalon Hill edition might not be to everyone's taste, but I love the glow in the dark pieces and the clear graphics. The FFG kit includes weak pastel units and muddy terrain tiles and resource tokens. Altogether a distinct downtick in appearance and usability. Still, it was good enough to play, so we dove in.
My initial exploration granted me spiders but no mines, while Smitch was up to his armpits in Rubium. He was first to the monolith, but I quickly challenged him, only to see my spiders hurled from its heights. I was crippled militarily and way behind the power curve - my loser cards and hot dice weren't enough to stop Smitch's tidal wave of troops. He had enough guys in action to fight several battles a turn, winning most of them. He quickly hit the VP target, with Mark a distant second. Nifty game, over all too soon. I will consign the FFG edition to the post-apocalypse bunker and use the original from now on.
Last up, Hawkeye, Smitch, and I grabbed The End of the Triumvirate. I was Pompey, Hawkeye Crassus, and Smitch Caesar. I moved first and opted for the political regions, manipulating the senate as much as I could. I seized the first consulship, and played defense on the map while angling for my second. Smitch twigged to what was going on and moved to stop me, but was a turn too late as I was elected a second time. My opponents played honorably and were therefore allowed the option of dignified suicide in light of their service to the Republic.
Caesar seizes Hispania
It was only then that I noticed I shouldn't have gone first. Given the tight tolerances of the game, that's easily enough of an edge to steal a victory. I thus rule Rome with a heavy heart. We've relied on a couple rules translations for the game that have their merits and shortcomings, but I have since discovered UniversalHead produced one of his usual excellent summaries here. I heartily recommend it - it even tells you who moves first!
Heading for a showdown in Syria
J. R. Tracy
With ten players this week, we had a double session of T&T, plus some other old and new favorites.
Natus, Smitch, Dave, Bill, and Dr. Rob grabbed Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents and tore into it. Rob reprised his stock strategy of a few weeks ago, but this time he was able to stay to see it through to the end. By the time the rest of the table recognized his scheme, it was far too late.
Brush builds in the Midwest
With other players selling their shares in his company in the early going, Rob was able to embark on market manipulation on a grand scale without fear of reprisal. The results were staggering, with Rob garnering 832 points with Thomson to Natus' 558 with Edison. Dave managed 448 with Tesla, who is looking more and more like a puzzle. His +3 lightning bolt looks great but seems less useful in light of his special ability - he doesn't need lightning bolts! Hmmm. I'm sure we're missing something. Anyway, kudos to Rob, but I have a feeling the stock track will get a lot more scrutiny in the future.
Scott, Dutch, and Maynard had a bangin' session of Triumph & Tragedy, with Dutch taking the Soviets, Maynard the Axis, and Scott the Wallies. After a little diplomatic prelude, Maynard turned west, with a built-up Luftwaffe plastering Denmark. However, Scott's boffins took note and developed early warning radar in their secret labs. When the Germans hit the main Allied armies in France, Scott revealed his radar and enjoyed doubled hit chances against Maynard's Stukas. With their air support stripped away, the German ground forces bounced, and it was payback time.
Unwilling to settle things peacefully
Cold Soviet steel won eastern Europe to Dutch's side, while the French and British devoured Italy and her possessions. With the walls closing in, Maynard built up and awaited Ragnarök. The climactic battle took place in Germany, with all three sides at war; the USSR and the Wallies had one capital/subcapital apiece, so whoever took the Ruhr would win the game. It played out over several turns, with the Reds and the West trading haymakers while Maynard usually declined to activate since he always got the worst of it. Dutch had massive manpower, but the Royal Navy was on hand to lend support to the West. Ultimately Scott won the battle and the war, but only by a hair - he had no more troops to commit and Dutch would likely have won if he'd had just one more crack. Great finish, and I think even Maynard enjoyed the finale thanks to the drama of the three way fight.
Twilight of the Reich
At the other end of the room I taught T&T to Hawkeye and Campoverdi, but this was more a demo/exercise than a game. After my diplomatic debacle last week, I devoted over two thirds of my production toward troop builds. Campo was busy in Persia and Finland, but I noticed Hawkeye was spending most of his builds on cards. I took a chance and hit France, and managed to knock her out. I followed up with a quick Seelöwe, really just to test the defenses of the UK. To my surprise, my invasion force survived. Thanks to air support and follow on forces, Germany prevailed for an early win. We learned a lot of what I'm sure are canonical moves - fleets to the Channel, etc - but more importantly, everyone has learned the basic system and we should be able to scare up a game of this no problem in the weeks to come.
Sea Lion sticks the landing
We followed T&T with The End of the Triumvirate, a great little three-player that's been absent from the table for too long. The game postulates that the First Triumvirate of Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Crassus fell apart immediately in 59 BC, with the three coming to blows. Players vie to control the manpower and financial resources of the Republic, and can win either through conquest, by being elected Consul twice, or by maxing out the 'competency' tracks (indices of political and military skill, advanced by player actions). At its best, with experienced players, it's a supertight knife fight with everyone on the cusp of victory in the final turns.
Caesar heads home
I was Pompey to Hawkeye's Orange Julius and Campo's Crassus. Hawkeye and I shoved each other back and forth in Europe, while Campo consolidated the Mideast and North Africa. I grabbed back a couple cheap spaces in Africa, but Campo immediately rolled me up and headed for the Pillars of Hercules. Unfortunately, he left his home provinces lightly defended, and Hawkeye was able to take them in turn for a military victory. That's the nature of the game with new players - there are so many ways to lose that it's easy to overlook one on your first or second playing. Still, I'm glad I could reintroduce it and I hope to keep it in circulation.
The Julian battle barge rolls through Greece
Hawkeye and I paired up for an Up Front nightcap somewhere on the Riviera, his French versus my Italians in Scenario B, City Fight. I had a horde of Italians, 22 soldiers I think, many with great morale. I also had a pair of LMGs, where most nationalities only have one. Unfortunately, I also had a lot of troops with lousy morale, and more importantly, my standard infantry rifle was crap, requiring me to close to Relative Range (RR) 2 before I could even consider shooting. Hawkeye's French were better equipped, able to engage me at RR1, but he had one of the worst hands in the game, with a six card capacity but only one discard per turn. I had a mere four card hand, but a whopping two discards. Unfortunately, my Italians surrendered on a loss of 40% of my troops, as opposed to 50% for other nationalities.
Hard men for a hard job
In City Fight, you score points for troops that have advanced into building terrain, in addition to casualty VPs. I put my tough guys on the right to maneuver forward, a healthy firegroup in the center, and my shiftless shirkers on the left. I saw some great cards early on and had all three groups in buildings at Range 1 - with my enormous supersquad I now just needed to cycle the deck and await delivery of my sparkly victory tiara. Sadly, Hawkeye refused to toe the line. His Frenchmen advanced through and around a steady barrage of streams and wire, managed to find decent (but non-building) terrain, and began pecking away at me.
A jaunty Frenchman
The firefight was decidedly asymmetric with my Carcanos outranged by Hawkeye's MAS 36s. It got even worse when both my LMGs broke in quick succession, and were permanently disabled before I could repair them. My nine-casualty surrender threshold seemed a long way away at first but slowly my men departed the field of play. We had several lulls of Up Front-style "Go Fish", with multiple discards in a row. Unable to fashion even the lightest fire attack, my best weapon for deck-cycling was out of my hands. However, Hawkeye pressed forward, anxious to push me over the limit before we drained the decks, which in turn finally allowed me some fire opportunities of my own.
As the end of our final deck approached, I was in bad shape, with eight casualties and several pinned soldiers. Hawkeye would fire, I'd toss out a Concealment card, my guys would survive, and I'd play a Rally to repair some of the damage. I was teetering but still alive. With just three cards left, I couldn't do anything but discard, giving Hawkeye one more shot. He searched his hand, sighed, tossed a discard and drew the final card. I'd somehow survived without surrendering! We toted up the points, and found ourselves in a dead tie. Hawkeye's steady fire had a beneficial effect after all, denying me the unpinned men I needed to edge him for the win. It was a fitting end to a fun, tight game. I'm glad Hawkeye has brought it back into play the last couple months, and am having a great time rediscovering its pleasures.
J. R. Tracy
We had a modest six players to open September gaming a couple weeks ago.
Bill brings a feisty brew
Dave, Smitch, and Mitch tried Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents, with Dave getting Edison, the Dark Prince of DC. Dave used Edison's mad patent skilz (claims patents for free when available, ignores patent fees due others) to pad and preserve his coffers, giving him an edge in network-building and in the stock game. This was enough to claim a win.
You light up my life
The same crew moved on to Stone Age. Here Smitch tried the starvation strategy, opting to suffer the 10 VP hit for food shortfalls each turn under the premise he could make it up in actions elsewhere. He nearly succeeded, but on the last turn ran out of alternative uses for his actions and tried to grab the food he needed for his little tribe. He fell one Happy Meal short, and lost the game by nine points to Dave. I've never seen the starvation strategy in action so it was interesting to watch it play out.
Quest for fire
Dutch, Bill and I broke out Triumph & Tragedy, GMT's block game on the European end of WWII. I had the Germans and Italians, while Dutch took the Wallies and Bill the Soviets. The game starts in 1935, with annual turns. I decided to try something a little different and gave peace a chance.
I focused my production on buying action/diplomacy cards, winning the good people of neutral Europe over to my cause. I also built out my factories a little, to take advantage of the population resources I was accruing. Soon I had a very impressive haul of cards every turn, outstripping my opponents by a mile on the diplomacy front (the lone exception was the US, which jumped to Dutch's side in '35). Bill, however, was wielding the Red Army around the edges of the map, conquering Persia and Finland and eyeing Turkey with evil intent.
Persuading the Persians
The breakpoint of the game came in 1940 - Poland had been in my (diplomatic) sights all game, and I just about had her in my grasp. She is a sweet plum, providing three strong units as a satellite and a handy buffer between Germany and godless hordes to the East. Unfortunately, Bill and Dutch teamed up to beat back my efforts. I should've given up on the jaw-jaw at this stage and just ramped up the Wehrmacht, but instead I gave it one more shot in '41. This proved to be a mistake, because while I was failing miserably, my opponents were busy investing in their war machines. I was forced to invade Poland before the Soviets did so, and the resulting losses left me even worse off relative to my foes.
Poor innocent Germany was caught in a fatal nutcrusher, losing her frontiers in late '41 and her core in '42. We called it at that point - Bill had the upper hand and was likely to win, though Dutch might have beaten him to Rome for a military victory. I suffered a nasty beatdown but I had a blast. I enjoyed trying an extreme strategy, but didn't recognize failure when it was staring me in the face. Unsurprisingly the game rewards a balanced approach over my dip-heavy scheme, but I like the way it provides a spectrum of options.
Bracing for the inevitable
Bill had tried the game before but it was the first time for Dutch and myself - Dutch hadn't even read the rules. However, we had no problem getting into it and I think we only had a couple errors over the course of the game. We played eight years of the war in about four hours - I can see experienced hands finishing a game in an evening. Good fun, very accessible, and sure to be back on the table soon.
Always have a backup plan
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players last week for the wrap-up of Cataclysm plus a smattering of lighter fare.
Campoverdi, Herr Fuchs, Smitch, El Rios, Dr. Rob, and Mitch tried Dark Moon, a hidden identity game with a lot in common with CattleCar Galactica. That's no accident, as the game was originally described as 'BSG Express'. Players are the personnel of an off-world mining colony, divided into Infected (traitors/Cylons) and Uninfected. The group must accomplish various tasks over the course of the game - should the group fail, the Infected win, while success is a win for the good guys. Players resolve tasks by secretly rolling dice and picking one result to reveal, which may or may not be a success. Based on outcomes and patterns the crew can vote to quarantine members or otherwise address their suspicions and paranoia. They played twice, with a win for each faction (though Campo notes he was on the winning side both times). This is a slick, fast-playing game, with a great The Thing/Who Goes There? vibe - I will be picking it up myself.
The big group split up, with Herr Fuchs and Mitch pairing up for Magic: The Gathering. Mitch had a matched pair of 'Duel Decks', Jace versus Vraska. They played three games, with David's Vraska getting the best of it, largely due to the rampaging Spawnwrithe, a self-replicating creature which generates a new copy with every hit it inflicts.
The rest of the Dark Moon crew grabbed Five Tribes, as Dr. Rob shed his outer skin to reveal a Natus lurking within (though unconfirmed rumors claim Nate was there all along). Tribes is a funky desert-themed VP-harvesting game dominated by a Mancala/Oware style mechanic. Players scoop up the meeples of a given tile and drop them in a chain around the board, with the color and location of the last meeple determining VPs gained or special actions performed. They played at a good clip until the endgame, when the other players desperately conspired to block Nate's apparently imminent win. Alas, they failed, and Natus emerged victorious.
Late summer vacations and Asian market volatility savaged the ranks of our Cataclysm game, but Maynard stepped up to lead the Reich, while Bill moved into the Kremlin and Scott assumed the reins of Italy and Japan. With the Western alliance on a roll the Axis were in dire straits. However, all was not yet lost.
As France I went on a shopping spree, purchasing units, upgrades, and offensives, in order to meet or better yet preempt the German threat. Maynard had similar ideas, however, and before my shiny new Somuas could roll off the assembly line, German armies smashed through the Low Countries to the gates of Paris. Twice the Germans attacked the capital, but both times my valiant infantry saw off the invaders, with the aid of British armor and American airpower. That was the German high water mark, as an American counteroffensive into the Ruhr forced Maynard to retrace his steps and defend the Fatherland.
Next stop Tokyo
In the Pacific, powerful US carrier groups approached the home islands, but the IJN sailed to meet them. The mighty Yamato and Musashi turned away one invasion fleet despite daunting odds. I was beginning to wonder if Japan might pull this out but Scott grimly shook his head. I didn't quite appreciate the power of American production, and sure enough, the west coast shipyards easily replaced US losses and then some, while Japanese industry struggled to keep up with attrition. The writing was on the wall, but Japan's defenders covered themselves in glory before succumbing.
Into the Wolf's Lair
In Europe, Italy fiercely contested the Med, with a couple good fights in the Tyrrhenian Sea keeping the RN preoccupied and the French fleet engaged. However, Germany was fighting for her life. The Soviets stayed out of the fight, preferring to move east to pick at the carcass of Japan. Germany somehow avoided political collapse despite losing most of her territory, but she finally surrendered with the loss of her last army. This, plus the pending loss of Korea, sealed the Axis fate and the game.
I was impressed with the way the Axis bounced back this week. They had a good shot at knocking out France, which would've forced the US to divert resources to Europe, in turn allowing Japan a little breathing room. With the Allied victory in Paris, however, Western industrial might proved overwhelming. We made a few rookie errors as players - Germany needs to set the pace in Europe, and some rules and map misunderstandings hindered Japan's early moves. I think our western alliance strategy was perhaps too easy to implement (though we had great die rolls) so Scott and Bill may tweak that a bit. My biggest concern as a playtester was the PTO, which I had yet to see in action. I'm now satisfied the naval mechanics work and integrate well with the ground war and the activity in Europe. Great fun overall and closing in on its final form.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen gamers for some playtest topics past and present, as well as a drive across France.
Roberto was up from DC and joined Mitch for Space Cadets: Away Missions. They tried the intro scenario and were doing okay, struggling a bit but their chances looked good. However, I noticed they weren't scanning every turn (a scan reveals the contents of an unexplored tile) and therefore they were a little light on bad guys. They played it correctly the rest of the game but it definitely dialed up the challenge a couple notches. They still managed to squeak out a win.
Space Leech is leeching
Next up, they tried 1944: Race to the Rhine, with Roberto taking Bradley to Mitch's Patton. Mitch was concerned about his flanks so proceeded at an unPatton-like pace, while Roberto charged ahead. Unfortunately, the opposition piled up in front of both of them and they ended in a draw with three medals apiece. I really like this game and would love to break it out again with the full three players. Gotta love the deuce-and-a-half on the box cover!
Smitch, Campoverdi, and El Rios sat down to Churchill, with Smitch as FDR, Campo as Winston, and El Rios as Uncle Joe. The bickering began immediately and didn't let up until yesterday. The Western Allies didn't exactly break a sweat helping out the Soviets, figuring the Second Front could wait just a teeny bit longer while they attended other concerns, such as liberating the Philippines and choosing a logo for the 406th Engineer Battalion.
The mid-war stress proved too much for Churchill, who suffered a heart attack and was then bounced out of office in the 1945 general elections. Attlee pressed on with the war effort. All the dilly-dallying came home to roost when they discovered there wasn't enough time remaining to complete the atomic bomb, so an invasion of Japan was needed to force an unconditional surrender. In the end, they didn't manage to invade Germany, let alone Japan, thanks to their petty squabbles and meaningless side projects. The whole mess was settled with a negotiated peace, with Campo's Britain edging out the USSR for the 'win' (really 'first loser' after the triumphant Axis).
A long way from the Reichstag
Scott and Bill directed Jim, Mark, Dutch, Hawkeye, and myself in a playtest of the latest version of Cataclysm: A Second World War. Jim was Germany, Mark had Japan/Italy, Hawkeye was the USSR, Dutch was Britain, and I played France/USA. Dutch and I decided to focus our diplomatic efforts on cementing alliances, as the game rewards formal agreements with improved efficiency in joint operations. This sucked up a lot of resources at the expense of influencing non-player countries, but we eventually succeeded in piecing together a US-UK-France tripartite.
Lafayette, we are here!
Meanwhile, Italy was making all kinds of friends in central Europe, as was Germany. Hawkeye got the wheels of Soviet industry turning, and laid the tracks of the Trans-Siberian railroad, just in case the war in China got out of hand. He need not have worried, as random events pushed the Chinese civil war along at a brisk pace, with Mao getting by far the best of it. Japan's carrier program flourished, and Mark looked south for an opportunity to use his new toys.
Tojo demands success
Italy fired the first shots, seizing Austria by force. Germany muscled up and looked ready to overrun France, which was vulnerable thanks to repeated failure to rearm. Fortunately, the alliance with the US was signed in the nick of time, and GIs flowed to France to man the border regions. Out east, Mark's imperial ambitions could no longer be contained, and he reached for Borneo. In a stunning reversal, the locals saw off the aggressors and the US came to their aid. Japan had no choice but to directly confront the US, and global war was at hand.
Turned back in the Philippines
We wrapped the first half the game with furious action in the Pacific. Another Japanese invasion force was stymied, this time in the Philippines, with heavy casualties on both sides. The combined Allies responded with a strike at the Rykyus, and were repulsed in turn. As it stands, the Axis and the West are at war, while the Soviets remain on the sidelines, working their diplomatic magic behind the scenes. France struggles to rearm, while Italy and Germany are tooling up toward a true war footing. The US is also trying to convert to a wartime economy, while Japan hopes to expand her perimeter before the American behemoth fully awakens.
Softening up Okinawa
Great fun - the good guys have the upper hand at the moment thanks largely to sweet diplomacy rolls and well-timed chit-pulls, but it looks like our alliance focus is working. The gameplay is very smooth - Bill and Scott are taking notes, but the only issue so far is how to strike a proper peace/war motivation balance, particularly for the Western powers. Should players be rewarded for maintaining a peacetime economy, punished for tooling for war, or some combination of both? The current mode (reward-oriented) seems okay but may yet be tweaked. Next week, we'll see if the Allies can maintain the momentum.
J. R. Tracy
With a post-DonCon gang of thirteen we got in some newish GMT wargame titles and explored the dawn of electrification.
Hawkeye, Jonathan, Andy, and Dr. Rob tried Tesla vs Edison. As Thompson, Hawkeye planned to grab as many patents as possible, but Andy's Edison hit the ground running and scooped up patents ahead of the pack. Hawkeye instead opted to pick up his own stock on the cheap while advancing up the tech track as best he could. Dr. Rob experimented with a stock strategy from the start, trying to build a portfolio while prices were very low in the early going, but he handed Brush Electrical Engineering over to Bill who was just getting up to speed with the game. Jonathan's Tesla pursued the DC heresy, and dogged Edison all the way to the finish line. Hawkeye made things interesting by lighting some Level V towns in the endgame, but Andy/Edison's early lead held up for a win.
Sparks will fly
Scott, Mark, and Maynard tackled Triumph and Tragedy. Scott ran the Fascists, Maynard the West, and Mark the USSR. Mark kicked things off with an attack on German-allied Romania, while Maynard sent the Royal Navy into the Baltic to support some Scandinavian adventures.
Pre-game trash talk
When Scott turned west, he staggered France but did not knock her out right away. Britain was defended by half a ham sandwich and the Royal Navy was trapped east of the Skagerrak, but by the time the conquest of France was complete, the opportunity for Sealion was gone. Maynard scared up enough troops to defend the island even without naval support. They were unable to finish the game but with the Soviets ahead on points, Mark took the asterisked honors. The game looks fast and fun - definitely has some substance but it's built for speed.
We're from the Comintern and we're here to help
Smitch, Campoverdi, Natus, Jim, and I got biblical with Genesis: The Bronze Age, which ports the Pax Romana system back a few centuries. Players strive to expand their empires, pound on their neighbors, and raise monuments to their gods over the course of 50-year turns. Units are infantry, peasants, slaves, and chariots. Infantry do the hard work of conquest, while peasants handle the literal heavy lifting of wall-building and monument-raising. Slaves are gained through battle or city-taking, and are a handy source of labor with the bad habit of wandering off when unsupervised. Finally, chariots are the glamor boys, packing a punch in combat and lending a bonus if your chariot tech is higher than your opponent's.
Crashing the Cilician Gates
The economic system is simple - cities provide income and if you're feeling greedy you can shake down your non-native cities for a little extra at the cost of potential revolt. Money buys units and initiates actions for the most part. Activation is by chit draw - when your empire is drawn, you typically activate your ruler by rolling a die and adding his Campaign value, yielding his movement points for the turn. You also get a couple minor actions for moving individual units, doing some fortifying, or general tidying-up. Combat is the most involved bit of the game, with both sides rolling a single die which represents the percentage loss inflicted on the opponent. A Bergian host of modifiers (force ratio, leadership differential, chariot tech, etc) are netted out and applied by the favored side. The modifier may be added to the friendly die or subtracted from the enemy's as you see fit, depending on whether you want to reduce your losses or guarantee heavy enemy casualties. Thus are armies destroyed, cities taken, and reputations made.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
Each empire has a pool of ten leaders; you draw a new one each turn (there might be an optional rule for an historical order of appearance). I drew a hot king on the first turn and set about bending my neighbors to my will. The Assyrians and Babylonians immediately went to war, while Pharaoh Campoverdi was hit with a Sea Peoples invasion before he could even cross the Sinai. Smitch's Mitanni, like my Hittites, enjoyed a little breathing room and quietly expanded.
On turn two I had a good economic base and continued to expand my army, though my placement wasn't very efficient (it took me a couple cycles to integrate my builds with my game plan). The Babylonians held Nate's Assyrians at bay while expanding westward, while the Egyptians finally got their house in order and headed up the coast. Smitch activated a minor kingdom to my west, but I just ignored it - any damage they did could be easily undone and I was busy consuming the sweet nougaty goodness of northern Syria. By turn three, I was finally bumping into the Mitanni, and grabbed some of their westernmost cities. Egypt was nibbling at Judea, while the Assyrian/Babylonian frontier ebbed and flowed between Sippat and Samarra. We called it at that point due to the hour - I had a nice lead but with two turns to go, fortunes could change dramatically.
Those things are terrifying, and the cleanup on them is a nightmare
It's been a couple years since I last tried an RHB design, and I was pleasantly surprised. I found Genesis smooth and intuitive for the most part, though we spent a lot of time chart-flipping on the first turn. My primary disappointment was the lack of distinction between the empires. I realize the historical record is sparse, but a little chrome here would go a long way. The unique leaders are a nice touch but I think the pools are roughly equivalent taken as a whole. As it stands the empires are defined primarily by geography. That geography matters from a competitive standpoint - I spent most of two turns snarfing up defenseless local real estate while Jim and Natus were on each other from the get-go. A lot of the thematic flavor flows from the cards, which provided a couple narrative highlights in our game but fell more heavily on the other players than on me. They don't drive the game but do shape the course of play from time to time. Overall, I enjoyed the game and would like to try it again; I think it was well received by the table, even Natus (you should read what he says about games he *doesn't* like!).
Nice little empire you've got here
Hawkeye wrapped up the evening by taking Jonathan on a spin through a couple decks of Up Front's Meeting of Patrols scenario, converting yet another soul into a fan of a great game.
"Don't worry about it - nobody understands infiltration"
Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:58 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had eight players this past Tuesday, including a couple generations of one family.
Smitch, Maynard, Mitch, and Campoverdi pulled out Chaos in the Old World, a group favorite. I think it was a first playing for a couple players, which I thought was a bad sign - experienced hand Smitch was running the Khornish game hens, who can often snag a dial victory on a sleeping/newbie table. However, pleasure-master Mitch was the real dial threat, with his seductive Slaanesh wiles. Scores were tightly packed and dials were running even, but the Blood God was harvesting a disturbing number of hapless citizenry.
Lords of Chaos
The game remained close going down the stretch; Campo managed to get his Tzeentch lord powered up and ready to roll but random events hampered his ability to deploy corruption in warpstone regions. Eagle-eyed counterplay kept anyone from a threat dial win, and the 50 VP mark looked out of reach, so it was going the distance. The overhanging issue was Smitch's pile of dead peasants - if the card allowing him to cash them in appeared before the last region was ruined, the game would go to Khorne. Sadly for Tzeentch, Nurgle, and Slaanesh, the card did indeed pop up, granting Smitch ten more VPs for a healthy margin of victory.
Behold the corrupting power of corruption
At the other end of the table, Dr. Rob, Dave, myself, and Maynard's dad Hal sat down for first edition Wallenstein. Hal is a gamer from way back, an old hand at the likes of PanzerBlitz and Afrika Korps, but he was game for something a little more new-fangled. We used the fixed setup, which found most of my troops in Bavaria with a sprinkling up on the Baltic coast. I think I misplayed the first turn, buying all three buildings, plus both reinforcements, *and* the Electric Slide. I thought I could build safely in my interior regions, and this proved sound, but the lack of funds would hurt me later.
Hal owned the east of the country, while Dave and Dr. Rob battled in the Rhinelands. We had a three-way fight for Saxony and Rob soon ran the north, but not before I pillaged Bremen and Osnabruck. These regions provided a handy ablative layer for Rob's construction projects. Between board position and resources, he was the obvious target, openly goading us to drop everything and attack yellow. I seemed to be the only one who got the memo, but Dave and Hal had viable shots at a win as well.
Carving up Germany
The loss of my grain region before harvest (damn you, Dave!) and a -7 food penalty devastated my holdings, as I lost two regions to rebellion in the second year. That left me out of the running. Dave and Hal consolidated their holdings, while Rob used deft single-cube spoiling attacks to keep threats off balance. In the end it was closer than I thought, with Rob winning with 47 to Dave and Hal at 45 and 44. I failed to crack 40, not a great showing. Still, a lot of fun. Looking forward to picking up the second edition at some point - I like the system tweaks in Shogun and want to try them here.
Too much yellow
Last up, Smitch joined Dave, Hawkeye and myself for Imperial Settlers. I said a couple weeks ago that it was unlikely to see the table again soon, but here we are! Anyway, I found it much more interesting this time as the various civ flavors came through much more strongly.
What have the Romans ever done for us?
I didn't run my Barbarians particularly well, tossing some sword-generators early when that's what I needed to get my engine cranked up. Also, I spent too much time hitting the common deck in search of resources, and failed to deploy some of the very interesting and powerful buildings in the Barbar's unique deck. Hawkeye (Romans) and Smitch (Egyptians) did a better job with theirs, with the latter regularly ringing up VPs and the former really on a roll with unique buildings. Dave's Japanese made a solid late run - he was harvesting tomatoes like crazy and turned a heap in for a big VP score at the very end. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to catch Hawkeye, who won pulling away.
Now that I've seen more civ buildings deployed, I've warmed to the game somewhat. Also, we're still underutilizing opportunities for interaction. I stole a stick from Hawkeye every turn and Hawkeye's engineers blew up a Sphinx, but that was about it. We need to develop that aspect of our gameplay before we can really make a call. Still feels a touch long, but overall, a more positive vibe than the first time out.
J. R. Tracy
We had seven gamers for some playtesting and lighter fare.
Hawkeye, Dr. Rob, Smitch, Bill, and Herr Fuchs tackled Pax Porfiriana for the first time in months. Prestige was scarce so Smitch and Dr. Rob focused on enterprises, accumulating gold in anticipation of a long game. The first Topple appeared and worked its way down the Market. As a defensive move, Smitch went ahead and bought it to prevent a surprise win by someone else. Adding up the scores, he discovered the two low players were at zero prestige apiece - his own meager score was enough to win. Looks like the Iron Hand variant would've been the way to go here, as big tables seem to end early otherwise.
A Pax upon you
The same crowd then played 7 Wonders. This was a close game, with everyone clustered in the low 40s, except for Smitch, whose official score was "less than 42". Herr Fuchs triumphed, with a score that was presumably at least slightly higher than 42.
Get your own damn rulebook
Scott and I tried his new design Gettysburg 25, essentially Napoleonic 20 goes to the ACW. Units are rated for combat strength, quality, and movement, and leaders tag along to help their troops operate efficiently. The map covers a bit more than the traditional Gettysburg game, though the road net funnels the action toward familiar terrain.
Most elements of the game will be recognizable to anyone with experience with the Napoleonic 20 series - cards generating positive or negative random events, army morale affected by combat outcomes, lowish movement factors (but faster than the Nappy games), and a differential combat results table. Scott has added some leadership tweaks, morale penalties for failing to mind lines of communication, and asymmetric artillery bonuses (the Union has artillery reserves which boost neighboring units on defense, while Confederate divisions each get a bonus that may be applied once per day).
Here they come!
In our game, I took the Bluebellies. I had larger units but coordination issues outside the watchful eye of Meade. Heth trundled into town and I fell back to the ridges to the southeast, but not before Howard was chased off the field. Scott has some very bad luck in two large battles, suffering 'Attacker Rout' results in each for a whopping total four morale hits to the Confederate army.
Despite their shaky morale, the Rebels held a positional advantage, oozing around my flanks and threatening my LOCs. I launched a couple judicious counterattacks in hopes of pushing Confederate morale down further, but only managed to tire out my own troops. By the afternoon of the second day, both armies were on the verge of collapse. Scott organized a multihex attack focused on an exposed Sickles - he had a very good chance of inflicting the two morale hits necessary to see the Union off. Unfortunately for the Cause, he was beaten back. On my own turn, I was able to tag a Rebel division for the final morale hit on the Confederate army, saving the day and the Republic.
Repulsed but reforming
This is definitely a workable design - I felt it offered the full scope of the battle but with a small footprint and a reasonable playing time. We had a tight, exciting game, but much of that was down to Scott rolling a pair of particularly ill-timed 1s. As a result, he might tweak the army morale levels upwards - as it stands, both sides are fragile and unlikely to see a third day of fighting. Other than that, Gettysburg 25 looks nearly ready for prime time.
Sickles in a pickle
We wrapped up with a couple more games of 7 Wonders. In the first, Herr Fuchs offered me a belated birthday gift in the form of a steady stream of science cards; thanks to 43 points in green I managed a tidy win. In the second game, Hawkeye grabbed the win thanks to 27 points in purple. We crowned him Guildmaster and called it a night.
Hawkeye likes what he sees
Fri Jul 31, 2015 12:29 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players for our Bastille Day edition of game night, wrapping up Virgin Queen and playing something appropriate for the occasion.
The VQ gang began the evening with Nate's Ottomans in the lead, but several players were positioned to make a run. Spain appeared to have shot her bolt last week, but England and France were up and coming.
Natus' epic death-struggle with Smitch's HRE did neither player any favors, cutting Nate's lead as he lost keys elsewhere while battling his mortal enemy. The Ottoman Empire's fate was sealed when Smitch hit Nate with the Sultan's Harem card, denying the Turks a turn at a crucial moment. Nate was compelled to navigate the traditional stages of CDG grief.
Shock, anger, acceptance
Campoverdi's France was roaring into the picture as it took care of business on the home front by squashing a rebellious population, before venturing forth on the seas once more. England also surged, splitting many of the spoils of the New World with her cross-channel rival.
The clock expired without anyone reaching an autowin, so it came down to highest VPs. The Ottomans had the nominal lead, but both England and France still had some patronage to resolve. Stéphane rolled first, for a promising playwright from Avon, and maxed out the table, seizing first place. Campo followed up with Le Testu (inventor of the test tube), and *also* maxed out, leaving France in a tie with England! Ties are resolved by referring to whoever had the lead the previous turn...which was France.
A (momentary) Shakespearean triumph
Campoverdi claimed a hard-earned win, but Natus gets credit for leading six and seven-eighths of the gameturns. If this was Kremlin, he would've won pulling away....
By a whisker
Dutch and Scott tried the repackaged Jena 20 from the recent Prussia 20 release. Dutch had the French, fighting on two fronts against Scott's Prussians.
It was nip and tuck at first, but Dutch was attacking with Davout's outnumbered force. Once he switched the future Duc d'Auerstaedt to a holding posture, the focus moved to the other end of the map. The Prussians had already suffered a beating on the morale track, so Napoleon's control of geographic objectives was enough to tip them over the brink for a French win.
Murat awaits his moment
George Young was in town for business, so he joined the Tolleymon and me for Liberté, in honor of the date. This is a classic Martin Wallace area control game with a lot of bells and whistles. Players take turns using cards to place blocks representing either Royalists, Radicals, or Moderates across the provinces of 18th century France, marking their placement with a token of their own color.
Basic placement strategy is two-fold - you want to control the 'winning' faction-stack in a given province at the end of each round, and you want to have the largest presence in the faction that gains control of France (by having a plurality of provinces) when the round's province scores are tallied. Mechanical nuances complicate strategy a bit, since you may only place one stack per province, and multiple players may place stacks of the same faction within a given province (ties are resolved by cardplay). Also, a round ends when all the blocks of any faction are depleted, so your decision might be shaped by whether or not you want to extend a round.
Play proceeds through four rounds, the last three of which involve the Battle Box. This represents the control of the armies of the fledgling Republic - you may spend an action committing a token there instead of placing faction blocks on the map. Whoever has the most tokens in the Battle Box *and* has a general in his tableau wins the battle points for the turn (ranging from three to five, depending on the round). You build your tableau by placing a limited cards there instead of in the discard pile - you may expend tableau cards to resolve province and Battle Box ties, and retrieve the rest back to your hand after scoring the round.
A moderating influence
Besides placing faction blocks or building your Battle Box presence, you may also play Special cards, which are essentially gotchas. These range from Bread Shortage in the early going (removes a single block of the ruling faction from anywhere on the map) to Terror, which can eliminate a *stack* of faction blocks from any province containing Radicals, *and* allows you to remove a card from anyone's personal display. That's a heavy hammer and we wielded it indiscriminately.
In our game, Dave, our resident area-control mentat, established an early lead thanks to board presence, while George and I built our tableaus with an eye toward the second round. This round looked a lot like the first - I would've cut into Dave's lead, but I failed to deploy a general so all my actions expended on the Battle Box went for naught. Round three tightened things up considerably, as I finally won command of the armies and almost caught up to Dave, with George right behind.
The fourth round was vicious, as George and I struggled for control of the Battle Box (five VP this round) while Dave focused on Paris (worth three times the other provinces). About this time we discovered we'd been misplaying Terror - it may only be used if the Radicals are in power, something they never achieved. We figured we'd all benefited and suffered equally, so we decided to continue our misuse through game end. Heads were rolling across the map, as neither George nor I could keep a general alive on our tableaux. However, the turn order allowed George to place one from his hand with his final action, the last of the game, thereby claiming the Battle Box points. We toted up the scores, and George emerged the winner, 21 to my 20 to Dave's 19.
Battling over the Vendée
I felt Liberté lived up to its solid reputation. It has multidimensional decision-making, excellent player interaction, and a tidy playing time (for three seats, anyway). The theme comes through largely in the form of the special cards, which escalate in power as the game progresses (Bread Shortages are in the first half of the deck, but Terror and the Guillotine don't show up 'til later). There is also the possibility of a Royalist counter-revolution ending the game early, should they control a specific subset of provinces (if the players fail to win the 'battle' on a given round the Royalist score is increased for this purpose). Similarly, overwhelming Radical control also ends the game early - both these events prompt alternate scoring mechanisms, adding a couple more factors to consider. I'll happily play this one again, and I hope I don't have to wait 'til the next Bastille Day to do so.
With VQ still going on, we grabbed Roll for the Galaxy for a couple quick games. George thoroughly abused us, bouncing Dave and me around the room as he romped to embarrassingly large margins of victory in both games. Dice management was my main issue, as I was too focused on getting big planets or developments into play immediately instead of taking the time to build an engine. Dave fared a little better, but we were no match for for George's powers of galactic conquest. George finished the night a tidy three for three, bidding us adieu before heading back to the wild mountains of Vermont.
I should probably buy back some dice
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve gamers for a continuation of Virgin Queen and some lighter fare.
In VQ, Nate's Ottomans continued to hold the lead but could not break through to victory. Horrific luck at sea (two entire fleets sunk!) and a seemingly eternal stalemate with the HRE in the east denied the Turks any fresh keys, but they didn't lose any either.
Another great Ottoman roll
Elsewhere, England and France preyed upon Spanish convoys, but Maynard refused to yield treasures, giving up VPs instead. He was saving his CPs in order to set up a serious Hail Mary (Queen of Scots) against England. Twice Maynard tried to assassinate Elizabeth, and twice he came up just short thanks to clutch die-rolling by Stéphane. Besides his attempts on Betty, Maynard dragged Spain within a key of victory, but was beaten back.
God save the Queen
Back in the pack, the Protestants bided their time, spreading the good word, while the HRE kept mum about their religious preference. France, through marriage and piracy, tiptoed up the standings. With two turns to go, we have an obvious favorite in the Ottomans, but a couple other players are within reach.
Holding the Turks at bay
Scott and Hawkeye tried the new edition of Empire of the Sun, with the 1943 scenario, Scott's Japan against Hawkeye's Allies.
Hawkeye made little progress island-hopping, but was grinding his way to the reconquest of New Guinea. The most interesting action was in the CBI - Scott's offensive made good progress but suffered a bloody nose from a British counterattack. A Japanese attempt to regain the initiative just resulted in further Japanese casualties. Sadly they had to call it about halfway through, but I think the hook is set for a rematch.
The tide is turning
Dutch, Sean, Dr. Rob and I pulled out Imperial Settlers, a slick little card-based civ-building game. Each player takes a civilization (Rome, Egypt, Japan, and 'Barbarians') and its respective deck of unique buildings. There is also a common deck of buildings, generally resource-producers that serve as foundations for your own more interesting cool-power-providing constructs.
As you cycle through your turn, you harvest resources, build buildings, activate special powers, and work to develop a tableau while occasionally harassing your neighbors. Dutch, Rob, and I had a good three way fight going but Sean was receding into the rear-view mirror. Each civ has several unique abilities, but Egypt's powers seemed inscrutable relative to the others. With Sean out of it by turn four (of five) we decided to call the game and assess.
I enjoyed the gameplay, as you build your economic engine in a very dynamic fashion (unique buildings almost always replace common buildings, so your tableau changes a great deal from turn to turn). The civs have distinct thematic character, and the degree of player interaction is decent - you can steal or borrow from your neighbors, and even burn their buildings down. The game has great iconography, though unfortunately the resource symbols are very small and almost indistinguishable from a couple feet away. Also, while I liked the action flow of a given turn, it didn't seem to change much over the course of the game; instead we just did *more* of everything. Instead of marking the turn track 1-2-3-4-5, they should use short-tall-grande-venti-trenta. I'd like to return to the game, but it's not at the top of the heap.
Dr. Rob headed home so Dutch and I introduced Sean to Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, which we figured would be right up Sean's alley. Sure enough, he quickly warmed to it, running the One-Niners ruthlessly, while Dutch managed the SAMCRO and I had the Grim Bastards.
I focused on making money and avoiding the other gangs, because SAMCRO was always strapped and the One-Niner dog-whistle meant they usually had the numbers on me. I built up a nice kitty and then played rope-a-dope, tying up lucrative locations and either exploiting them myself or forcing the others to spend extra orders to step in front of me. This succeeded until I miscalculated the order count and allowed Sean to exploit a sweet Opportunity card. That proved the difference and he edged me by a dollar, with Dutch a few bucks further back. It was a fast, tight game, and likely in the rotation for the next few months.
Next week, VQ wraps!
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